Wayward Hayward

Its official: BP’s CEO Tony Hayward is out and new management is stepping in. After BP’s Board continued to stand behind Hayward and his struggles to control the oil gushing into the Gulf, they have since reversed their stance by asking Hayward to resign as CEO. But was the decision fair?

Now, before you get too up-in-arms about the question, think about this for a moment: Is Tony Hayward, or any CEO for that matter, responsible for EVERY bad decision (or even every good decision) their company, employees, contractors, and consultants make? I ask this because, even now, as I write this, Ford CEO Alan Mulally is on television unveiling the new Ford Explorer and in all respects taking credit for the announcement. Where are the engineers, the design team, and the factory workers? It seems to me leaders and managers these days are quick to jump on top of any new product or service their employees make, and even quicker to jump out of the way if something bad happens.

Don’t get me wrong; leaders and managers should be held accountable for their decisions and actions, but that is IF they are responsible for those decisions and actions. Did BP’s CEO make the decisions leading up to the Gulf spill? I can presumably say he did not, but yet he was still held accountable. What happened to the safety inspectors, contractors, and engineers who designed the well and the safeguards associated with it? Did they get to keep their jobs after the damage was done? I can’t find any evidence supporting they were dismissed after the indiscretions. By all accounts, they are still at work.

So how should managers and leaders be held responsible when the people below them make a mistake? In my opinion, it should be based on how the Top handles the crisis. What actions were taken? How quickly? How effective were they? Should they be allowed to participate in a yacht race while damage control is being established and executed? These factors are how a C level executive, President, team leader, or “boss” should be weighed against during those times. How did Hayward stand up to those metrics? Well, I think he was more talk than action, which ultimately led to his downfall. After admitting his company failed it its promise to provide a safe and reliable drilling rig in the Gulf, what did he do? Did he go to the ravaged coastlines to talk to the communities? Did he meet with the families of the victims from the explosion? Did he participate in the cleaning efforts by wiping oil sludge off a pelican or dolphin (admit it, it would have looked good)? No. Instead, he promised $20 billion to the government, did some cameos in the Gulf, then went sailing. He stayed out of the spotlight of the cleaning efforts and flitted about Washington and the UK.  Truth be told, he did very little to protect his image or that of BP’s. In my view, he got what he deserved,  not because he was responsible for the spill but because he did not stand behind his convictions as CEO while the cleanup efforts were taking place.

But what about all those other executive leaders who were forced to leave, even after working hard to overcome obstacles? What about all the Rick Wagoners and Bob Nardellis out there sentenced to resignation after working hard to come back from the brink? It just goes to show that no matter how hard you work, some people just want to see heads roll.

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